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August 15, 2022

Sex, money and lack of education

Several homosexual scandals have recently erupted in the Romanian Orthodox Church (BOR). But the evolution of technology and the wide accessibility of recording devices means that what was once gossip can hardly be contested today. An audio or video recording is entirely different than “it is said that…” For centuries, such situations were mostly hushed up. Especially when bishops were involved, even though sometimes the disputes, some even political, could have led to interested negative publicity, so that some ended up being publicly defamed. But these were rather exceptions. For the good renown of the Church it was much better to remain silent about such events. Especially since the medieval legislation of Byzantine inspiration was very harsh in this sense, not to mention the religious rhetoric for which sodomy was – and still is – “an outrageous sin,” in other words it entails hasty punishments even while the culprits are alive. But homosexuality did not concern solely the “princes of the Church” – tempted by the luxury of the office, by the pleasures of the flesh – but also the monks, destined to an entire life of relative seclusion far from the opposite gender. Moreover, even though the Orthodox priests, unlike the Catholic ones, are –  with very few exceptions – married, cases of paedophilia have not been absent. It is, of course, difficult to now deem how many or how few in number all of these illicit sexual practices were. What is certain is that they were drastically blamed at the level of official discourse and looked upon as grave pathologies. Even though, at the same time, tolerance for the “moral deviations” of the priestly class denoted proverbial hypocrisy.

“There are black sheep in every flock,” this is how the Church responds to the accusations. And pragmatically encourages: “do what the priest says, not what the priest does!” Nevertheless, the said scandals are not simple unrepresentative occurrences. Against the backdrop in which the BOR is getting ready for a potential constitutional referendum meant to introduce the restriction of understanding marriage as anything but between a man and a woman – a preventive measure, considering that at this moment no other possibility exists –, the recognition of the fact that even its leaders have not given up their sexual lives is meant to raise doubts about the advisability of such a lecture. In what concerns the obvious predilection for homosexuality, this has, of course, contextual causes too. For a bishop, it is far easier to seduce a young student whose presence does not necessarily raise suspicions than to keep getting feminine visits. Even more so in the case of monks, secluded in a monastery in which the presence of the other gender is, in principle, even more drastically restricted. A catholic priest, celibate by excellence, can more easily hide a mistress than an Orthodox monk can – and all bishops are monks. The comparison between a regular homosexual, immediately “destined” to hell and the harshest of punishments, and a tolerated bishop who – if the scandal is not public or the facts are not easy to prove – suffers almost nothing can also be hypocritical. Double standards are often applied.

But when it comes to hierarchs, the scandals are of a different nature too. There is the recent case of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, recently accused of selling – with rare irresponsibility – a historical heritage, so much so that the Palestinians he shepherds see him as a traitor and the Israeli state is concerned about some fabulous transfers. “Money is the root of all evil,” but these cases seem to be about something far more serious than simple greed, no matter how disproportionate. Several days ago, the issue of levying taxes on the BOR was raised once again in Romania. The idea was mentioned by a newly-appointed adviser to the Premier, who shortly thereafter lost his job – although probably more troublesome was the negative approval he issued regarding a stadium to be built in the city of the main ruling party’s president. Such a debate exists in many countries, not just in Europe. The stake is serious, with clear political implications.

But neither money nor sex are the Church’s main problems. It’s education. What do they teach children and what do they teach adults? Far too often, its “teaching” is at least anachronistic, if not outright reactionary. In recent years, it has staked almost exclusively on the miraculous. Processions with relics have become the main churchly performance. Meanwhile, the most renowned voices are those of some retrograde and irresponsible monks, who enjoy a lot of success in many circles. And Christian intellectuals are the defenders of the Church at any cost rather than the reformers it needs. Nothing seems to be weaker and more improvised in our era than theological culture. Foggy and hysterical “mysticism” reigns in its place.

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